Foundational skills are basic things that help you tank better. Other classes make use of these things so if you have played WOW a while you will already be good at them to varying degrees. But they are all skills that will make you better as a tank as you get better at them. Most of these are useful for a DPSer or solo player but are even more critical for a good tank.
Aggro range estimation
This skill is simply the ability to look at a critter or group of critters and know where you can stand and not ‘aggro’ them. Or, alternately, where you can stand TO aggro them. This also includes the ability to figure out which other critters will chain aggro off the one you pulled. All players pick up some degree of this skill as they play the game. You can’t help but have a minimal ability to do this. However, not every player gets really good at it. Tanks, by getting really good at it, become much better tanks. Getting good at this skill will enhance all of the following things: strong consistent pulls, the ability to not accidently grab extra packs, choosing the best place to fight, knowing when to do what kind of pull, and the ability to know when your DPSers are in danger of aggroing adds.
Memorizing a good way to do all the pulls in a given instance can be a crutch used when you aren’t actually good at aggro range estimation. It works well and can get you by. But if you are good at estimating on the fly you are just simply going to be a better tank.
Personally I am one for visualization. Imagine every critter has an invisible circle around them. That circle’s diameter varies based on the difference between your level and the critter’s level. If you enter that circle the critter will spot you and ‘aggro’. Now imagine that when the critter aggros it sends up a ‘pulse’. When this pulse goes out anything in that aggro circle that is allied with that critter will also aggro on you. In addition to that some critters that are hard wired to stay in aggro will all aggro at the same time regardless of how close they are to each other. This is how I think of things working. The mechanic might actually be a little different than that (I have never looked into it) but thinking of it this way is very helpful.
Most of this can only be learned through practice and experience. The point of bringing up the topic here is to get new tanks thinking about these things. It is critical a tank learn from mistakes and grow. A DPS can often get by with making the same mistakes over and over. Some helpful friendly tank might keep saving their butt. A tank cannot afford that and must learn from his mistakes. Maybe not the first time you make it and maybe not the second, but sooner rather than later.
Patrol path knowledge
Knowing where and when patrols move and turn is important. This goes hand in hand with simply memorizing the layout of instances and remembering all the pulls in an instance (also a useful tank skill).
When you start tanking you will find you learn a lot more about what groups are ‘linked’ and will all aggro together. You will also learn, probably via wipes, what groups have a patrol that goes between them. Patrols often ‘bridge the gap’ and cause those agro pulses to jump to the patrol and then jump to the other group. Simply by timing a pull poorly you can get 2 or 3 groups in your face. You also can learn over time how to estimate when to pull a patrol so that it does not aggro anyone with it. Mostly this is timing and the ability to estimate distances without stereo optic depth perception. Of course it can also be done with pure memorization.
Long time gamers probably come to WOW with a reflexive ability for camera control. People new to gaming, or new to games with camera control, had to start from scratch. The stages of camera control go from utter bewilderment all the way to pure reflex. If you feel like you are still not great at it don’t let that stop you from trying to tank. Tanking is something that forces you to get better at it. But it does not require you to be uber to start tanking.
Practice using both the right click ‘character turn’ and the left click ‘camera’ turn. When not tanking, or just not meleeing, you can often get away with not using your camera independently of your character’s direction. What I mean is, for example a mage might only face his camera while turning his character. In fact, if he uses just the keys to turn his character then he might not use ‘mouse look’ at all.
As a tank you should be using your mouse and movement keys at the same time. This may seem awkward at first if you have not been doing it this way already. Why do it? Two simple reasons, the keys can’t turn your character fast enough, and you need to be able to look around and maintain situational awareness while still facing your primary target.
For example I run up to a boss start the fight, and then rotate just my camera around to see where the adds are going to spawn from. Now I will be ready for them.
Or I might be rapidly changing targets as waves of attackers come at us. This could require me to turn completely around instantly to face a new target. Only the mouse gives this fast and independent control.
But as I already said, you CAN get started learning to tank without already having this skill. There are a lot of ways to set up your controls so don’t hesitate to try something new. For example if you are left handed you can still use WASD just by moving the keyboard over, or you can use the arrow keys. I will talk more about keys in the ‘user interface’ post I have planned.
Here are a few tips for getting better with camera control.
Play with your smart camera settings. Sometimes a small tweak might make things more to your liking.
Scroll the scroll wheel! In close tight instances zoom way in. This will cut down on disorientation as the camera bumps along the ceiling.
Slow your mouse movement rate down. High mouse sensitivity can be extremely disorienting. When you rapidly move your camera the whole WOW screen jumps to a new direction. Now your brain has to catch up and figure out how far you turned and what new things you are looking at. Did you turn 180 and are looking back the way you came? Or did you turn 270 and are looking at some branching tunnel off to one side. A small decrease in mouse speed can really help your brain handle those rapid turns and cause less disorientation.
When my wife was brand new to wow she had her mouse rate set sky high and was always getting turned around and lost, even if she was standing right next to me. One quick twitch jerks your camera too far, your brain receives two images that are not related and has to do work to piece it into a complete picture of your surroundings. If instead you pan at a rate that lets you see everything as it goes by, your brain can build a completely understanding of where you are, what you are facing, where everyone else is around you, and which way you are headed.
Maneuvering your character
Maneuvering goes hand in hand with camera control. Practice using the mouse to turn. Practice using the keys to turn. Practice ‘strafing’ with the Q and E keys. Practice strafing while looking in some other direction. Try running diagonally while looking in some other direction. A good skill is to be able to navigate around a corner or winding staircase while looking in some other direction.
Don’t forget that small steps backward can save you from having to turn completely around.
It is better to have all the targets in your forward 180 degree arc. Stick your arms straight out to the left and the right. Draw a mental line straight out from them to the end of the universe. Everything in front of your arms is in front of you. In WOW you can only dodge and parry attacks from in front of you. I think block too, but I forget. Also if you tab between targets that are in front of you then you don’t have to turn to hit them.
Running through a group and then turning around on the far side is sometimes handy. (other times it gets you killed)
Many abilities require the groups to be in a certain place or proximity. Shockwave, Captain America shield throws, and many others work better when you can position the pack where you need it.
NOTE: On positioning packs. There is an issue where server lag causes the critters to run behind you. What happens is you start to move, lets say one step backward, and the game client sends that to server. But you stop moving right away. Then there is a lag before the server gets the update saying you stopped. Meanwhile all the critter AIs started moving to follow you. Because of the tiny lag you took just one step but they take 3 and are now behind you. On trick I use is if I am trying to adjust the pack’s position, I use more strafe and move in circles and arcs. Then the critters are using turns to follow me and they don’t overshoot with turning. So instead of taking on step back to be sure they are all in front of me I might take on strafe step right and then turn left slightly. Sometimes it works better.
General knowledge of other classes
This one is so vague that it almost does not rate being on the list. But it is an importation foundation for a tank. It really helps a tank BE a tank if they know a wide variety of things about the game. If they are solely focused on their own class and don’t have a working knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of other classes then they will not live up to their potential as a tank. How much knowledge you get concerning how other classes play is up to you. Some of it you will pick up over time and other stuff you will have to seek out, ask about, or read about. I will do some posts some other time giving the highlights of each other class from a tank perspective. Look for ones on ‘know your healer’ and ‘know your dpsers’
All these skills are in addition to the ability to use taunts correctly and to generate good threat levels. (see Taunt and Threat guide)
Another key tanking skill is ‘situational awareness’ but that one is big enough to rate its own post.
Another, more advanced skill, is using ‘cooldowns’ really well. I will also cover that in a later post.